The Great Revelation

the #1 story pitched to Volume One over the past decade

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

We still get emails pitching the story. All the time. It began after Volume One’s first issue was published, and over the past 10 years, the phenomena has endured – like a relentless, though well-meaning, neighbor knocking at your door, once a week-ish, forever.

The story has been pitched in many ways. In its purest form, a local writer has an idea for an opinion-style piece they assume we will love. The basic premise:

“I always used to think this place was boring and that there was nothing to do here. BUT HOLY CRAP THERE IS! Eau Claire is actually really neat. I thought it sucked ... and now I don’t!”

I’ve been involved with this magazine long enough – as a contributor and an employee – to have seen the pitch more times than I can count. At this point in the game, we simply click “reply” and type up a gently worded “thanks but no thanks.” Or we ask the writer if they could maybe be more specific, or if they’d like to focus on only one thing (they rarely do). And yes, we sometimes roll our eyes. Just a little bit. Maybe half a roll. But in a good way.

The easiest way to explain why we don’t want to publish a personal account of this (sorry, but) extremely common revelation is that we attempt to fill the entire magazine with stories and listings about things to do (and hopefully these things don’t suck). It’s ... the whole point. We might as well have called the magazine Stuff To Do Around Here.

I’d really like to sum it up by saying something dramatic like, “When people stop pitching stories about how they’ve just now realized there are tons of things to do around here, well ... then our work here is done.”

However, as much as I love being dramatic, the issue is much more complicated than wanting to shift a community’s perception about itself, which is pretty complicated to begin with.

However, as much as I love being dramatic, the issue is much more complicated than wanting to shift a community’s perception about itself, which is pretty complicated to begin with. See, I’m starting to think that people need to have this realization. And they’re probably going to have it with or without Volume One.

Many of these pitches come from college students approaching graduation who are suddenly realizing (oh, hey) there’s an entire community surrounding campus, people live in that community, and those people do stuff. A cynical person might downplay this revelation or make the writer feel embarrassed or dumb for just now catching up with what the townies already know.  I’ve done it myself. I’ve rolled my pretty eyes. I’ve snidely commented.

But I’m at a point where I try to constantly remind myself, “Self, you’ve been there. You’ve lived within that mindset. Don’t be such a jerk.”

I now suspect that this whole process of realization is an important rite of passage for people in communities like ours. It’s a big step, not only in community awareness, but in self-awareness. Coming to terms with the limits of your sphere of experience – and choosing to push past them – is an important lesson. At least, it was for me. 

A number of important changes have happened inside my head over the past decade, and all of them started with the understanding of how much stuff I’d been missing out on for the first few chunks of my life. I was out of college, I was working downtown, I was meeting new people. At first, I just started getting out more. Then I started seeing how hard other people were working to make cool stuff happen. Then I wanted to be one of those people.

It’s a ladder I think I had to climb – and not one of those really nice ladders with a non-slip surface on the steps and a burly construction worker holding it steady, telling me what to do. It was a rope ladder on a windy day, stretching up into someplace I couldn’t really see very well. But I knew I wanted to get up there. Making the climb gave me an appreciation of the work everyone else has been doing. I hope it helped me earn my place in this community.

I shouldn’t stereotype, because it’s not just college students who go through this. It’s anyone who, for whatever reason, has only just started paying attention. I’ve lived in Eau Claire my whole life, and up until 10 years ago, I’d barely scratched the surface of this place. Wave after wave of people have come after me, making the same realizations. 

Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know. (But, rest assured, turn off the lights and I glow.) It’s probably not important to make it stop. What’s important is to make sure that, when the times for revelation come, there’s always something good for people to find here.

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